Unni Gjertsen


Book, 13 x 19 cm, 128 p., language : English, Norwegian, publisher : KORO Public Art Norway, ISBN : 978-82-93033-10-3.
Materials: ink, paper

Collection: Collection M HKA, Antwerp (Inv. no. B 2028/375).

Literary synopsis

Talking to the staff at The Northern Lights Observatory in Tromsø, Unni hears that there is a geomagnetic observatory in Senegal. She feels it beckon. She is fascinated too when she learns about the magnetic properties of iron, the way its atoms line up in neat parallel rows. The frame is set: she will go to Dakar to find a piece of iron, and to M’bour to visit the Observatory. In addition, she will follow a ship on its journey to Bouvet Island, via the internet.

The novel is a visual and textual journey from Hannah Arendt to, Per Olov Enquist, from astronomy to historical geophysics, from childhood memories of Sjøvegan, to the northwest coast of Norway, from the Polar Institute to random radio programs; in her pursuit for Something. And we follow the artist to Dakar on her hunt for the piece of iron, with which she is never satisfied. And to the Observatory in M’bour, where scientists are taking measurements to discover where the sand blows from, as it may offer clues about the changing ocean currents.

The novel is divided into three parts: 1. Preparatory research in Tromsø, and decision on project; 2. A journey to Dakar and M’bour, via Brussels; 3. Integration of the above with reference to geography, navigation, shipping, literature, wind and weather. The text comprises pieces of short prose, each entitled with a date and place: At the office, Oslo, 29 November; Casablanca, 1992; Hotel Keür Marrakis, M’bour, 8 December.

Relation of the novel to the artist’s practice

Dakar–Tromsø is part of an art project that contains other elements, of which the artist considers it to be the very content of the project. It could not have happened without the art commission, which gave the premises. The journey was inspired by scientists that were to move into the new Technology Building at The University of Tromsø. The novel reveals the artistic process step by step and also becomes the work. The design of the book is essential. Other elements, such as a piece of iron and the displaying boxes containing a copy of the novel, feel more like requisites to the artist. Or a scaffold that she may have torn down after the work had been done. Dakar–Tromsø is also the road to Unni Gjertsen's present project, a stage play.

The magic of novels are their capacity to travel with the speed of mind to far away places and back again; the relation that exists in between all novels, and through them the possibility of time traveling in the depth of history. Writing, after the research is done, makes it possible to sit in a dry place and look at the map, enjoying place names, the form and effect of words, the shaping of sentences, and the power to rearrange them. Unni Gjertsen sees her artistic practice sometimes as a preparation for future novel writing.

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